The draw for the initial knock-out round of the Europa League final stage was set on Monday, pitting Weston McKennie and Juventus against Nantes, and handing Jordan Pefok a tough showdown with Ajax.
This initial draw paired the eight runners-up of the Europa League groups together with the third-place finishers in the Champions League. Remarkably, this set up a headline match between two fallen giants – Barcelona and Manchester United – that would have been fitting of a Champions League final before the organizations fell upon harder times.
This also saw another erstwhile European giant – Juventus – forced to “slum it” in the second tier, where Weston McKennie and his teammates will have to put down French team Nantes in order to have a shot at lifting their first European trophy since the 1990s.
The French team, who finished ninth last season in Ligue 1 and entered the competition by way of their domestic cup crown, finished second in a group won by Freiburg, and will be heavy underdogs against the Bianconeri.
Jordan Pefok and Union Berlin finished second in a tight Group D, and will face Dutch powerhouse Ajax over two legs in February. Union have been the surprise package of Germany’s Bundesliga this season, spending several weeks in first place, although they have slowed down a bit with two losses in their last three league games.
Richard Ledezma is gradually pushing his way into PSV Eindhoven’s plans after a long injury layoff, and started their final group game, a win over Norwegians Bodø/Glimt. For their second-place finish in Group A, they drew a tough matchup against quality Spanish team Sevilla.
The eight winners of this knock-out round will then be drawn against the eight winners of the group stage. This will bring Matt Turner, who has been Arsenal’s keeper for the Europa League when healthy, and Ferencvaros defender Henry Wingo into the fold.
The two legs of the upcoming round are set to be played on Feb. 16 and 23, with the draw for the final 16 taking place the day after the second leg.
Europa League Knockout Round Play-off Draw
Juventus (Weston McKennie) – Nantes
Ajax – Union Berlin (Jordan Pefok)
Sevilla – PSV Eindhoven (Richard Ledezma)